Bouncing back from a season plagued by injuries, many thought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s fifth year in the NBA could be his breakout one. After-all, in the lone seven games he played in 2015-16, Kidd-Gilchrist played some of his best basketball in a Charlotte Hornets uniform.
In those seven games, Kidd-Gilchrist hit over 54 percent of his shots, had two double-doubles and scored 20 points against the Chicago Bulls before falling and re-tearing his labrum in his right shoulder against the Indiana Pacers.
Fast forward to this past season and it’s hard to say Kidd-Gilchrist “broke-out.” He averaged just 9.2 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist had a 103.8 defensive rating, which is abnormally high compared to the 96.3 rating he had in 2014-15 (his last 50-plus game season), a season where the Hornets also didn’t make the playoffs.
Again, his struggles from the perimeter kept him from scoring in bunches this season, as evident by him only taking nine shots from beyond the arc. To put that into context, he shot seven 3-pointers in the seven games he played in 2015-16. Here’s his full shotchart from the 2016-17 season:
Outside the paint, Kidd-Gilchrist took the highest volume of shots from the baseline and wing spots right inside the arc. There, he shot under the league averages for a combined 34.6 percent. Additionally, in each zone directly inside of the 3-point arc, he shot a combined 56-for-160 (35 percent) compared to a 53-for-143 (37.1 percent) showing in 2014-15. While the slight decrease isn’t great, the more alarming thing is the lack of improvement over the span of two years.
To be fair, however, there were some major improvements in 2016-17, as he recorded career-highs in four different categories. He finally reached the whole mark in blocks and steals with one per game, and despite the numbers previously highlighted, shot a career-best 47.7 percent from the field. He also improved drastically from the free throw line with a 78.4 percent mark.
It’s also important to note that his jump-shot has greatly improved over the years. Known for having one of the most unconventional shooting forms in the NBA, Kidd-Gilchrist has worked very hard on bettering it.
This is from 2013, when Kidd-Gilchrist worked with Mark Price:
This is a video from when he practiced w/Mark Price. Notice how he releases ball on his way down from the jumper. No strength/help from legs pic.twitter.com/rWo8FGFWfg— Nik Valdiserri (@NickyV05) May 9, 2017
It’s easy to see that he releases the ball on the way down from the jumpshot, meaning every shot is strained and never gets the proper strength or base from his legs.
Now, look at his jump-shot from this past season. While it still isn’t pretty, there’s a much more fluid motion, and his legs are driving the entire shot.
If Kidd-Gilchrist can capitalize off his improved mechanics, he instantly becomes a reliable scorer because it enables him to offset defenders off the dribble as well. It’s just a matter of when and if it happens.
In regards to Kidd-Gilchrist’s future otherwise, a lot lies in the hands of coach Steve Clifford and his staff. While sometimes a liability with his shooting woes, shuffling him around the offense can give him more opportunities to attack. For example, putting the ball in his hands more often is a start.
This past season, Kidd-Gilchrist had his lowest usage rate of any year in his career at 14.6 percent. He’s perhaps his most dangerous in transition, so why not have him start the break more often after getting a rebound? The Hornets have encouraged it in the past, but not enough.
Of course, this means he has to continue to improve his ball-handling and passing skills, but he’s shown the ability to move down the floor, warranting more experiment from the coaching staff.
This season, the Hornets were the third worst team in fast break points, which is baffling considering the talent the starting five yields. With today’s NBA asking more forwards to grab the rebound and go, the Hornets couldn’t ask for a better option than Kidd-Gilchrist.
If he gets more responsibility in handling the ball, he takes pressure off Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker, who are still very effective off-ball. Also, it opens the offense and improves what should be a terrific fast-break team with frontcourt players such as Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams.
It may not align well with Clifford’s preferable half-court offense, but the two can coexist. Already a good passing team filled with veterans, the multiple speeds and looks could keep the opposition at bay. Too many times this season, the Hornets were a predictable offense in the half-court which tends to only work if there’s an established big-man to throw it down to. But as everyone knows, the Hornets’ big man, Zeller, also thrives the best in transition.
Along with giving Kidd-Gilchrist more responsibilities on offense, it’s time to play him at the four, especially with the second unit. He played only 12 percent of his minutes at power forward this season, a number that needs to be closer to 25 or 30.
At 6’7, Kidd Gilchrist is tall enough and defensively gifted enough to compete against the power forwards of today’s game. Not only would he be able to defend them and use his speed and athleticism to get by them, but his shooting deficiencies wouldn’t be as noticeable.
Since the Hornets use Williams as a spot-up wing player on offense, Kidd-Gilchrist has played a fair share inside the arc with the first unit and has looked comfortable. He’s able to attack the offensive glass and work the baseline or high-post. Then, replace Williams and Zeller for a two-guard shooter and Frank Kaminsky. With Kaminsky, who spreads the floor even more than Zeller, Kidd-Gilchrist immediately has more space to operate through his spots, all while handling the ball a bit more. Keep Batum in with his ability to post up, and the Hornets all of a sudden have an interesting small-ball lineup.
Walker-Marco Belinelli-Batum-MKG-Kaminsky is a fascinating experiment. There’s no doubt Zeller fits in here as the center too.
However, if Kidd-Gilchrist is going to play more power forward in the future, he needs to further develop a better one-hand shot such as floaters and hook shots. He has a tendency to still shoot stationary when only a few feet away from the basket, which looks as awkward as it must feel. Instead, if he develops a floater, he’ll be able to work more effectively when diving into the paint or working the baseline.
Here’s an example of where the floater would’ve been better than the shot:
And here, he hits a really well executed hook-shot:
Perhaps one of the most uplifting stats from this season was that he played in 81 games. After missing 122 games in the last three years, he missed all but one in 2016-17.
In terms of output next season, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to average 12 points per game to go along with his already seven to eight rebounds. He’ll have a full, healthy offseason to work on his game, and only be 24 before the season’s start.
Currently, the Hornets have him under contract through the 2018-19 season for $13 million a year, with the 2019-20 season being a player option. It’s a fairly cheap contract for a guy who at the worst is a defensive stopper and a relentless rebounder.
Alone, his motor has made him an important player considering his ability to at times physically take over. The next step is to become one of the better all-around forwards in the Eastern Conference.
For the final word, here are some of Kidd-Gilchrist’s best plays from the season: